Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
A former commander with the Albuquerque Police Department has settled a whistleblower lawsuit alleging the city demoted him and forced him to retire after he highlighted problems the academy was having complying with the court-mandated reform effort.
John Sullivan, who had been with APD for nearly 20 years when he resigned in July 2018, received $550,000 settlement earlier this month.
His attorney, Tim White, said Sullivan hasn’t been able to find another law enforcement job since he left APD and is instead working security at Sandia Casino. His wife is still an APD officer.
Meanwhile, the academy has continued to be a sore spot for the department and the independent monitor overseeing the reform effort has repeatedly pointed to it as needing improvement. Angela Byrd, who was brought on after Sullivan retired, was fired in October after an external investigation found she retaliated against staff and cadets who filed complaints.
“If John was still there the academy would be in compliance with the (Court Approved Settlement Agreement) right now,” White said. “I’ve represented a lot of police officers. I’ve sued my share of the bad cops, this is the kind of guy you want over there. The fact that we don’t have him over there is a big loss for our city.”
Sullivan was once the commander over APD’s Special Investigations Division and, according to the lawsuit, he brought that unit into compliance with the settlement agreement laying out the ways APD has to reform. The city has been under a settlement agreement since the Department of Justice found in 2014 that officers had a pattern and practice of using excessive force.
According to the lawsuit, Sullivan’s success in Special Investigations led officials to move him to managing the police academy.
“Commander Sullivan began to correct what was wrong in the Academy, in part by bringing the deficiencies in the Academy and what needed to be done to correct these issues to the attention of APD and city upper management, the Department of Justice, United States attorneys and the Court Appointed Monitor overseeing the CASA,” the suit states. “John’s reward for this work was retaliation from his superiors and being forced into retirement from twenty years of superlative service to the city of Albuquerque.”
Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, said the city settled the lawsuit because it focused on employment decisions made by the former police chief, Michael Geier.
“Given Mike Geier’s history of retaliation and covering up reported misconduct at the APD Academy, it was in the city’s best interest to resolve the matter,” Gallegos wrote in a statement.
Sullivan’s suit says he tried to get additional staffing for the academy but was told by a then-deputy chief that “everyone needs staff.” Sullivan brought the issue up at a federal court hearing and again to the independent monitoring team and DOJ attorneys.
According to the lawsuit, Harold Medina – then the deputy chief, now the police chief – told Sullivan “straight out that he needs to stop using the DOJ/IMT ‘against’ the department. Commander Sullivan is told he needs to show more loyalty to APD and to go through him for all CASA-related matters going forward, implicitly threatening that Commander Sullivan not speak directly to DOJ/IMT.”
In June 2018, Sullivan was the subject of an Albuquerque Journal article after he testified that he ended a practice of group testing among cadets. Around the same time he got into a disagreement with a city attorney about the attorney’s proposed training for the academy.
Then, according to the lawsuit, in early July he was called into a meeting with then-chief of staff John Ross and given a memo from Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair stating “he will be demoted from Commander to Lieutenant effective the pay period beginning July 21, 2018 as a result of an alleged ‘restructuring of APD.’ COS Ross states that ‘they’ will also allow him to retire, should he decide to do so.”
Sullivan decided to do so and three days later “involuntarily submits his letter of intent to retire.” Less than two months later he filed the lawsuit.